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William Kent: His Story

William Kent (1685-1748) was an eminent architect, landscape designer, and furniture designer in the early eighteenth century. He was responsible for introducing the Palladian style of architecture as well as the “natural” style of gardening known as the “English landscape garden” into England.

In his first job as a sign and coach painter, Kent showed so much promise that a group of Yorkshire gentlemen provided the financial backing for a Grand Tour, where he painted, studied art, and was inspired by the palaces of Andrea Palladio in Venice. While his painting career did not flourish, he was fortunate to meet Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of  Burlington, “the architect earl,” who eventually assisted him in obtaining many major architectural commissions. After their return to England, the pair got along so well that Kent lived with the Burlington family for thirty years while they pursued their ideals for bringing the classical arts and Palladian architecture to England.

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington

Kent worked on many public, private, and royal architectural commissions, serving as “Principal Painter in Ordinary” to George II from 1723-1748. Holkham Hall (see below) is “the most complete embodiment of Palladian ideals still to be found” (Wikipedia). His beautiful interiors can still be seen at Kensington Palace and Chiswick House, among others.

Landscape architecture

The Grand Tour, specifically Greece and Italy, proved to be the most significant factor in influencing the fine arts in Georgian England.

Kent, with Pliny’s garden in mind, transformed Stowe, Chiswick and Rousham into “landscapes worthy of an idealised pastoral painting by Lorrain.” Philip Southcote said that the Kent-Burlington partnership was responsible for ‘the fine natural taste in gardening.”

Chiswick

In 1733, Kent took the garden at Burlington’s new villa with its Palladian bathing house, Doric column, and Tuscan portico, and added a semi-dome of

clipped yews, to which he relocated antique statues from Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli. Most importantly for the development of the landscape garden, however, was the opening up of vistas in the groves to take in contrived views of the temples, statues and urns. This advance in gardening was received with great acclaim, and soon “No nobleman’s Gardens were thought to be of Taste unless Mr. Kent had dispos’d or planted them.’ English estates quickly filled up with similar classical features, as the upper classes rushed to assert their wealth and cultural authority through their choice of patronage.

Chiswick House, cascade

 

Chiswick House

Stowe

For his first ever landscape commission in 1731, Kent created the Temple of Venus, for which he painted provocative scenes Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen. Cobham, Stowe’s owner, was a leading Whig politician, so for the next several years, Kent embellished the property with political satire. In 1734, he enclosed forty acres of the estate to create the Elysian Fields, where he designed the Temple of British Worthies, which includes busts of famous historical persons such as Elizabeth I and Alfred the Great, and the Temple of Ancient Virtue. Across the water was a view of the Temple of Modern Virtues, with a statue of the decapitated Robert Walpole.

Temple of British Worthies, Stowe

…Kent was primarily employed to soften the rigid formalism of Stowe’s existing grounds, and transformed a disconnected series of garden features into a landscaped Arcadia of glimpsed views. To this end, he thinned the many harsh, axial avenues of trees.

Interestingly, it was Capability Brown who supervised the implementation of Kent’s designs for the Elysian fields, his first major commission. The River Styx “wound its way through a series of irregularly sited buildings and planted groves, furthering the fashion for naturalisation.”

Rousham

The trend toward escapist gardens which idealized “the pastoral bliss of ancient Rome” continued into the 1760’s, in stride with the political dominance of the Whigs. Rousham “is frequently hailed as representing the culmination of Kent’s Arcadian vision.”

The circuit walk at Rousham was a prototype of effective planting. It was designed to reveal different views and buildings in a pictorial fashion, including the Temple of Echo and a suggestively nude statue of Antinous, Hadrian’s boy lover. Arguable, Rousham was predisposed for its transformation into an informal Arcadia as the grounds curved naturally down to the River Cherwell. With its juxtaposition of Augustan values, castellated farm buildings and even a pyramid, Rousham was paving the way for the eclecticism of the Rococco garden. Most importantly, Kent opened out the views across the river y the addition of a Gothick eye-catcher and mill to the countryside opposite. From Rousham, Dormer [General James Dormer, Rousham’s owner]’s gardener John MacClary could enjoy the outward prospect of Carriers, Wagons, Gentlemen’s Equipages, Women riding, men walking.’ The Kentian landscape garden was as much about the enjoyment of outward views as it was an inward looking place of retreat. The fence had been well and truly leapt.

Kent “was a painter, an architect, and the father of modern gardening. In the first character he was below mediocrity; in the second, he was a restorer of the science; in the last, an original, and the inventor of an art that realizes painting and improves nature. Mahomet imagined an elysium, Kent created many.”

Horace Walpole

Holkham Hall

 

Kensington Palace

 

Kensington Palace

Source:

Mayer, Laura, Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, 2011, Shire Publications Ltd.

Amusements of Old London: Clubs and Coffee-houses

Amusements of Old London

William B. Boulton, 1901

“… an attempt to survey the amusements of Londoners during a period which began… with the Restoration of King Charles the Second and ended with the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

The origin of the gentleman’s club can be traced to the introduction of “the bitter black drink called coffee,” as described by Samuel Pepys, during the last years of William III. Boulton points to “a humble establishment which was opened for the sale of coffee in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, in the year 1652, as the parent of institutions of such superfine male fashion as White’s, the Turf, or the Marlborough Clubs of our day.”

Coffee-house in Istanbul

Mr. Edwards, a Turkey merchant, who was accustomed to travel in the East, acquired the Oriental habit on his travels, and brought home with him to London from Ragusa… a youth who acted as his servant and was accustomed to prepare Mr. Edwards’ coffee for him of a morning. “But the novelty thereof,” says Mr. Oldys the antiquarian, “drawing too much company to him he allowed the said servant with another of his son-in-law to set up the first coffee-house in London at St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the coffee-houses in the town were so increased in numbers that they were reckoned at 3000 by Mr. Hatton in his “New View of London,” and the coffee-house had already taken its place as one of the most remarkable among the social developments of modern England.

For by the time that Queen Anne came to the throne all London had arranged itself into groups of patrons for one or other of the different coffee-houses. City merchants went to Garraway’s in Change Alley, Cornhill, a house which combined business with pleasure, and had an auction-room on the first floor… Much of the gambling in connection with the South Sea Bubble of 1720 was conducted at Garraway’s. Jonathan’s, also in Change Alley, was another famous house of business devoted to stock-jobbers. Lloyd’s, the great organisation of the shipping interest… is the development of a coffee-house of the same name… The doctors had their meeting-house at Batson’s at the Royal Exchange, where physicians used to meet the apothecaries and prescribe for patients they were neer to see. The clergy, from bishops downwards, went to Child’s in St. Paul’s Churchyard or the Chapter Coffee-house in Paternoster Row.  Leaving the city and proceeding westward, Nando’s, the house at Temple Bar…; Dick’s…; Serle’s…; the Grecian…; and Squire’s… were all houses near the various Inns of Court and were much haunted by lawyers.

Lloyd’s

Then there were the coffee-houses for men of a certain intellectual interest.  “The great Dryden” held court at Wills’s, on the corner of Bow and Russell Streets. Dean Swift, along with Mr. Addison and Mr. Steele, took over the literary tradition after Dryden’s death at Button’s, on the other side of Russell Street. The Bedford in Covent Garden was the haunt of Foote, Fielding, Churchill, Hogarth, Dr. Arne, and Goldsmith.

Further west still can be found the birthplace of the social club, those clubs

supported by lounging men of fashion, the “pretty fellows” of Anne and the Georges, and by the adventurers and sycophants who had fortunes to push in such fine company. The most fashionable of these houses were clustered in or near the parish of St. James’s, taking their tone, as was natural, from the neighbourhood of the court. Many of these places had a political cast, but all were meeting-places of men of birth and condition.

Rowlandson: A Mad Dog in a Coffee-house

The St. James coffee-house was primarily Whig. The Cocoa Tree at Pall Mall “gathered the Tories and those discontented gentlemen who looked askance at the Hanoverian king at St. James’s, and drank furtive healths to the Pretender.” White’s Chocolate House (the true origin the social club) “was a meeting place for the more fashionable exquisites of the town and the court, and for the followers who lived upon them.

Mr. Mackay describes the coffee-houses in “Journey Through England” (1714).

About twelve o’clock, the beau monde assemble in several coffee and chocolate houses, the best of which are White’s Chocolate-house, the Cocoa Tree, the Smyrna, and the British coffee-houses, and all these so near one another, that in less than hour you see the company of them all. You are entertained at piquet or basset at White’s, or you may talk politics at the Smyrna or St. James’s,”

Tea, coffee, and chocolate, and wine were purveyed at these houses, with light viands like biscuit and sandwiches; set meals were supplied only at the taverns—houses of a different type in which… the sale of liquor was the chief object. “But the general way here,” says Mr. Mackay, “is to make a party at the coffee-house to go to dine at the tavern, except you are invited to dine at the table of some great man.”

Boulton suggests that the development of the coffee-houses was

the expression of a feeling of security among all classes of Englishmen after the troubled days of the seventeenth century… Men now for the first time for a hundred years saw opportunities both for business and relaxation which had been impossible during the period of civil and religious tumult… which was only attained by the Act of Settlement and by the acceptance of the Hanoverian dynasty. A period of social prosperity and expansion was then beginning which leveloped later under the wise rule of the sagacious Walpole, and made possible amenities of social life which had been unknown in England since the days of Elizabeth.

The Kit Kat Club was “the very expression itself of the security and beneficence of the new order of things under the wise Whig rule.

Dean Swift, who organized the Brothers Club, stated that “the end of our club is to advance conversation and friendship, and to reward learning without interest or recommendation.”

The Royal Society and the Dilettante Society were the two clubs devoted to scholarship as well as social intercourse. Notable members of the latter were Reynolds, Fitzwilliam, Charles Fox, Garrick, Colman, and Windham, but not Horace Walpole, who failed to be admitted and was fond of saying that “the nominal qualification is having been to Italy, and the real one being drunk.”

The tradition of the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks, which included such men as William Hogarth, Francis Hayman, Churchill, Mr. Wilkes, Lord Sandwich, Mr. Garrick, Mr. Chase Price, and the Prince of Wales, was “nothing more than the joviality arising from these meetings to eat beefsteak and drink port wine, the only viands allowed by its rules.”

The Literary Club was “[t]he most notable… of all these famous gatherings which were the solace of the leisure of men of distinction throughout the eighteenth century.” That choice society was so exlusive that it blackballed bishops and Lord Chancellors, and kept its own friends waiting for years for admission to its charmed circle because they expressed too much confidence of joining.

White’s Chocolate-house

Founded in 1693 by a man called Francis White, White’s was the parent of the English social club. It was here where gaming became fashionable, “Mr. Heidegger issued his tickets for the masquerade,” and where lost things, such as a sword or a lady’s lapdog, were returned in exchange for a reward.

White’s early 18th century

“The club, in its origin, was aristocratic, a lounging-place for the leisure of a lazy society.” But its reputation for nearly a century was as a location for serious gaming. The Earl of Orford called it “the bane of half the English aristocracy.”

Although it was “the club of the great noble, of the courtier and the statesman,” it wasn’t known for politics. Members included Sir Robert Walpole and William Pulteney, William Pitt and Henry Fox, Charles James Fox, and representatives from “most of the great families of that day, Russells, Churchills, Pelhams, Stanhopes, Herveys, and Cavendishes.”

Social distinction, in fact, was the chief qualification for membership… and its pretensions as an appanage of the aristocracy were never better described than by Horace Walpole, who declared that when an heir was born to a great house, the butler went first to White’s to enter his name in the candidates’ book, and then on to the registry office to record the birth.

White’s was the only club, according to Boulton, until Almack’s and Boodle’s came into to existence in the time of George III.

Member elections at White’s occurred so seldom that in 1743, certain gentlemen with aspirations to join started a second club, in its own rooms, calling itself “The Young Club at White’s (the first one thus becoming known as the “Old Club.”

The elders seem to have looked upon the junior concern with a mild and benevolent eye, and although, as we say, quite separate, with rules and a cook of its own, the Young Club at White’s was ultimately accepted by those potentates as a place of purgatory or probation, where the young man might, by the blessing of Providence, become purged from all contamination of intercourse with ordinary people, and worthy of communion with their own charmed circle.

Occasionally a candidate for the Old Club passed quickly from the Young Club, but he was invariably a man of parts and possessed of great influence; young Mr. Charles Fox, for instance, was elected to both clubs at White’s in the same year, owing no doubt to the efforts of his father, Lord Holland, who was a noted member of the Old Club. His friend George Selwyn, on the other hand, waited eight years in the junior concern, and another typical clubman of the same set, Lord March, was consistently rejected year after year, and only joined the old society when the two clubs were merged in the year 1781.

The famous betting-book contains many outrageous wagers such as the time when a man dropped dead in the doorway and the members made wagers as to whether he was alive or dead, but the most common wagers dealt with births, marriages, and deaths among the prominent society members.

On the 4th of November 1754, there was entered… the following wager: “Lord Montfort wagers Sir John Bland one hundred guineas that Mr. Nash outlives Mr. Cibber.” The bet refers, of course, to the aged poet laureate Colley Cibber, and to the equally venerable Beau Nash, for so many years a prominent figure at Bath. Below this entry is the very significant note in another handwriting (quite possibly Horace Walpole’s, who noticed the wager): “Both Lord Montfort and Sir Bland put an end to their own lives before the bet was decided.”

White’s betting-book

At the ascension to the throne of George III, who openly disapproved of gaming, White’s “became a place of meeting for serious men of affairs, the old gaiety and revel… sadly curtailed under the new dispensation… [A]nd the careless youth of the period began to look out for a place more to their liking.”

Almack’s (now known as Brooks’s)

[T]he origin of Almack’s was, as we say, a revolt of the gay youth of 1764 against the ordered decorum of White’s, and an effort to discover another place of meeting where the old rites of hazard and faro could be continued unmaimed. Almack’s assumed from the outset the greatest pretensions to fashion; the young Dukes of Roxburghe, Richmond, Grafton, and Portland were among its original members, aand its early elections included most of the famous young men about town of those days, Mr. Crewe, Sir Charles Banbury, Richard Fitzpatrick and his brother Lord Ossory, both the young Foxes, their cousin Lord Ilchester…, and the young Lord Carlisle, who seems to have been a typical pigeon of the play tables. A little later came Selwyn and Horry Walpole, Gilly Williams and March…; later still young Mr. Sheridan and the Whigs like Burke, Erskine, and Lord Holland, and the intellectuals like Gibbon, Reynolds, and Garrick; last, but not least, his Royal Highness George Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.

Brooks’s Club

Boulton claims Almack’s (Brooks’s) resembled the earlier White’s, although he says that “play revived at Brooks’s in a splendour which quite surpassed all the early glories at White’s, and was perhaps only equalled by the doings at Crockford’s during the first half of the [nineteenth] century.”

The most prominent member of Brooks’s, and its most reckless gamer, was Mr. Charles James Fox.

Charles James Fox

Mr. Fox’s first notable efforts in public life had taken the form of rather lighthearted revolts against his header, Lord North, whom he had opposed on such measures as Royal Marriage Bills, and in so doing had deeply offended the king. His Majesty had written to Lord North that he considered “that young man had cast off every principle of honesty,” and the royal scruples were increased fourfold by the reports which reached him of the excesses of wine and hazard at Brooks’s, in which Mr. Fox was the most eminent figure. Worst of all, the Prince of Wales, who was eager from the day he reached manhood to embrace every opportunity of making himself disagreeable to his Majesty, was pleased to humour Mr. Fox with his particular friendship and countenance, and to announce his intention of joining his friend’s favourite club. From that time forward Brooks’s was taboo at court, and party politics were introduced into club life for the first time.

The young Mr. Pitt, when he came into public life, realized that as long as George III was in power, any political effort that included Charles Fox was doomed. Therefore, he chose to join White’s instead, “and as long as those two great personalities remained in public life, the stormy politics of their times raged about the two clubs, and were directed from each.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, gaming-houses sprung up all over the West End, and the attraction of both of these clubs turned to the “extraordinary cult of male fashion” known as the Dandies.

The Dandies

The whole movement was the assumption by a small coterie of men of fashion of a social superiority above their fellows, and the supporting of their pretensions by an arrogance which had been unknown in polite society before their day. The inspiration was supplied by that pattern of fine gentlemen the Prince Regent, at a time of life when the charm of his youth has disappeared, and it was imparted to such among the younger men in St. James’s Street as were found worthy by the incomparable Mr. Brummell.

Brummell in 1815, the year he insulted the Prince Regent

Boulton finds it unaccountable that a man of middle-class origin who exhibited such rude and obnoxious behavior as he did, could have been made the “male fashion of an entire generation.”

The men who followed Mr. Brummell… made club life at White’s and Brooks’s well-nigh unendurable to any but their own set… Their savage blackballing decimated the club during a period of twenty years, and at least rendered necessary an alteration of rules which placed the ballot in the hands of a committee in order to save the club from extinction.

With White’s and Brooks’s off the list of possibility for most gentlemen of leisure, other clubs were established, such as the Alfred Club, for men of letters, judges, and bishops; the Travellers’ Club, founded by Lord Castlereagh, for men who had travelled “five hundred miles from London in a straight line;” and military and naval clubs, as well as others.

Amusements of Old London series

Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

From Wikipedia:

512px-1stDukeOfNewcastleOld

Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle

Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne and 1st Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne KG PC (21 July 1693 – 17 November 1768) was a British Whig statesman, whose official life extended throughout the Whig supremacy of the 18th century. He is commonly known as the Duke of Newcastle.

A protégé of Sir Robert Walpole, he served under him for more than twenty years, until 1742. He held power with his brother, Henry Pelham (the Prime Minister of Great Britain), until 1754. He had at this point served as a Secretary of State continuously for thirty years—dominating British foreign policy.

Walpole gladly welcomed the young Newcastle into his coterie, firstly because he believed he could easily control him, and secondly because it would strengthen his hand against the rival Whig factions. Newcastle joined with Walpole because he, correctly, believed that he was going to dominate British politics for a generation.

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford

After Henry’s death the Duke held his late brother’s position for six years, in two separate periods. While his first premiership was not particularly notable, Newcastle precipitated the Seven Years’ War, which would cause his resignation from his high position. After his second term as Prime Minister, he served for a short while in Lord Rockingham’s ministry, before retiring from government. Few politicians in British history matched his skills and industry in using patronage to maintain power over long stretches of time. He was most effective, however, as a deputy to a leader of greater ability, such as Walpole, his brother, or Pitt.

Historian Harry Dickinson says that he became:

notorious for his fussiness and fretfulness, his petty jealousies, his reluctance to accept responsibility for his actions, and his inability to pursue any political objective to his own satisfaction or to the nations profit…. Many modern historians have depicted him as the epitome of unredeemed mediocrity and as a veritable buffoon in office.

The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole

There is scarcely any public man in our history of whose manners and conversation so many particulars have been preserved, as of the Duke of Newcastle, the well-known leader in the Pelham Administration under George II. Single stories may be unfounded or exaggerated. But all the stories about him, whether told by people who were perpetually seeing him in Parliament, and attending his levées in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, or by Grub Street writers who had never more than a glimpse of his star through the windows of his gilded coach, are of the same character. Horace Walpole and Smollett differed in their tastes and opinions as much as two human beings could differ. They quite different society. Walpole played at cards with countesses, and corresponded with ambassadors. Smollett passed his life surrounded by printers’ devils and famished scribblers. Yet, Walpole’s Duke and Smollett’s Duke are as like as if they were both from one hand. Smollett’s Newcastle runs out of his dressing-room, with his face covered with soap-suds, to embrace the Moorish envoy. Walpole’s Newcastle pushes his way into the Duke of Grafton’s sick-room to kiss the old nobleman’s plasters. No man was so unmercifully satirised. But in truth he was himself a satire ready made. All that the art of the satirist does for other men, nature had done for him. Whatever was absurd about him, stood out with grotesque prominence from the rest of the character. He was a living, moving, talkng caricature. His gait was a shuffling trot; his utterance a rapid stutter; he was always in a hurry; he was never in time; he abounded in fulsome caresses and hysterical tears. His oratory resembled that of Justice Shallow. It was nonsense effervescent with animal spirits and impertinence. Of his ignorance many anecdotes remain, some well authenticated, some probably invented at coffee-houses, but all exquisitely characteristic:—”Oh—yes—yes—to be sure—Annapolis must be defended—troops must be sent to Annapolis—Pray where is Annapolis?”—”Cape Breton an island! wonderful!—show it me in the map. So it is, sure enough. My dear sir, you always bring us good news. I must go and tell the King that Great Britain is an island.”

And this man was, during near thirty years, Secretary of State, and during near ten years, First Lord of the Treasury! His large fortune, his strong hereditary connections, his great parliamentary interest, will not alone explain this extraordinary fact. His success is a signal instance of what may be effected by a man who devotes his whole heart and soul, without reserve, to one object. He was eaten up by ambition. He was greedy after power with a greediness all his own. He was jealous of all his colleagues, and even of his own brother. Under the disguise of levity he was false eyond all example of political falsehood. All the able of men of his time ridiculed him as a dunce, a driveller, a child who never knew his own mind for an hour together; and he overreached them all round.—Lord Macaulay, on Walpole’s Letters.

Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse

Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House

Teresa Cornelys - Carlisle House Soho

Teresa Cornelys at Carlisle House, Soho

Teresa, by birth a German, and during man-years a public singer in Italy and Germany, settled in London about the year 1756, and for twenty years entertained “the votaries of fashion of both sexes” with great success. For this purpose Mrs. Cornelys obtained possession of Carlisle House, in Soho Square, formerly the mansion of the Earl of Carlisle.

Carlisle House

View of Soho Square and Carlisle House

View of Soho Square and Carlisle House

Carlisle House was of considerable extent: the Catholic chapel in Sutton Street was the banqueting-room, and the connecting passage between it and the house in Soho Square was called “the Chinese Bridge.” The arched entrance below the chapel was exclusively for chairs or sedans.

Mrs. Cornelys's assembly room at Carlisle House

Mrs. Cornelys’s assembly room at Carlisle House

The Antecedent of Almack’s?

TICKET

The nobility and gentry had the entrée of Carlisle House by payment of an annual subscription, for which they received a ticket of admission to all entertainments given there. They had the privilege of lending their tickets to friends, provided they wrote “the name of the person upon the back of the said ticket to whom they have lent it, to prevent any mistake.” Mrs. Cornelys had great success; but she had her troubles in powerful competitors; for we find her issuing this advertisement: “Whereas, it is been industriously reported, to the disadvantage of Mrs. Cornelys, that she has expressed herself dissatisfied with a subscription now on foot to build a large room in opposition to her; she esteems it her duty, in this public manner, to declare that she never once entertained a thought so unjust and unreasonable…” The “large room” here referred to in opposition is thus referred to by Horace Walpole, in a letter dated Dec. 16, 1764: “Mrs. Cornelys, apprehending the future assembly at Almack’s, has enlarged her vast room, and hung it with blue satin, and other with yellow satin; but Almack’s room, which is to be 90 feet long, proposes to swallow up both hers, as easily as Moses’s rod gobbled down those of the magician’s.” However, Mrs. Cornelys made additions to Carlisle House, with new embellishments, furniture, and decorations, which in the year 1765 cost some 2,000l… in consequence of which she was compelled to charge subscribers an additional guinea.

A musical evening at Carlisle House

A musical evening at Carlisle House

The ball on Feb. 26, 1770

…Mrs. Cornelys gave a magnificent fête to some 800 maskers. Walpole devotes great part of a long letter to a description of this masquerade, at which he was present.

Our civil war has been lulled asleep by a Subscription Masquerade, for which the House of Commons literally adjourned yesterday. Instead of Fairfax’s and Cromwells, we have had a crowd of Henry the Eighths, Wolseys, Vandykes, and Harlequins; and because Wilkes was not mask enough, we had a man dressed like him, with a visor in imitation of his squint, and a Cap of Liberty on a pole… The ball was last night at Soho; and, if possible, was more magnificent than the King of Denmark’s…

…The mob was beyond all belief: they held flambeaux to the windows of every coach and demanded to have the masks pulled off and put on at their pleasure, but with extreme good humor and civility. I was with my Lady Hertford and two of her daughters in her coach: the mob took me for Lord Hertford, and huzzaed and blessed me! One fellow cried out, “Are you for Wilkes?” Another said, “D—n you, you fool, what has Wilkes to do with a masquerade?”

Among the company were Lady Waldegrave, Lady Pembroke, the Duchess of Hamilton, Mrs. Crewe, Mrs. Hodges, Lady Algeria Carpenter, &c. The characters assumed were very eccentric. Sir R. Phillips appeared as “a double man,” half-miller, half chimney-sweeper. The Earl of Carlisle figured as a running footman; Mr. James, the painter, as Midas. The Duke of Devonshire was “very fine, but in no particular character.” And “Lord Edg—b, in the character of an old woman, was full as lovely as his lady.” The ladies were superbly dressed. “The Countess Dowager of Waldegrave wore a dress richly trimmed with beads and pearls, in the character of Jane Shore.” “The Duchess of Bolton, in the character of Diana, was captivating.” “Lady Stanhope, as Melpomene, was a striking fine figure.” “Lady August Stuart, as a Vestal, and Lady Caroline as a Fille de Patmos, showed that true elegance may be expressed without gold and diamonds.” “The Countess of Pomfret, in the character of a Greek Sultana, and the two Miss Fredericks, who accompanied her, as Greek slaves, made a complete group;” and to eclipse all, “Miss Moncton, daughter to Lord Galway, appeared in the character of an Indian Sultana, in a robe of cloth of gold and a rich veil. The seams of her habit were embroidered with precious stones, and she had a magnificent cluster of diamonds on her head: the jewels she wore were valued at 30,000l.”

BIGAMOUS DUCHESS OF CHUDLEIGH

The Bigamous Duchess of Kingston

An “opera strife” leads to bankruptcy

In the following year, 1771, Mrs. Cornelys got embroiled in an opera strife. Walpole writes, Feb. 22, 1771: “Our most serious war is between two Operas. Mr. Hobart, Lord Buckingham’s brother, is manager of the Haymarket. Last year he affronted Guadagni, by preferring the Zamperina, his own mistress, to the singing hero’s sister. The Duchess of Northumberland, Lady Harrington, and some of the great ladies, took up the brother, and without a license erected an opera for him at Madame Cornelys’s… Mr. Hobart began to starve, and the managers of the theatre were alarmed. To avoid the Act, she pretended to take no money, and had the assurance to advertise that the subscription was to provide coals for the poor, for she has vehemently courted the mob, and succeed in gaining their princely favour. She then declared her masquerades were for the benefit of commerce.… At last, Mr. Hobart informed against her, and the Bench of Justices, have pronounced against her. Her opera is quashed, and Guadagni… is not only fined, but was threatened to be sent to Bridewell.

Mrs. Cornelys’s masquerades were characterized not only by indecency, but also by mockery of solemn feelings and principles… The lessees of the theatre, injured by her popularity, opposed her; and she was convicted before Sir John Fielding for performing dramatic entertainments without a license.… Next, bills of indictment were preferred to the grand jury, insinuating of Mrs. Cornelys “that she does keep and maintain a common disorderly house, and did permit and suffer diverse loose, idle, and disorderly persons, as well men as women, to be and remain the whole night, rioting and otherwise misbehaving themselves.” In November following, appeared in the bankrupt list of the London Gazette, “Teresa Cornelys, Carlisle House, St. Anne, Soho, dealer.”

Pantheon_from_Papworth's_Select_Views_1816

The Pantheon, one of the competitors of Mrs. Cornelys’s that eventually caused her downfall

Mrs. Cornelys’s last stand

Nevertheless, Mrs. Cornelys resumed her revels here with great spirit in 1776. Two years later, Carlisle House was again advertised to be sold by private contract…

…Mrs. Cornelys attempted to retrieve her fortunes in various places; one being in a large detached mansion, known as Knightsbridge Grove, in Porter’s Lane, approached through a fine avenue of trees from the highway. At length, in 1785, Mrs. Cornelys gave up her precarious trade. “Ten years after,” says Davis’s Memorials of Knightsbridge, “to the great surprise of the public, she reappeared at Knightsbridge as Mrs. Smith, a retailer of asses’ milk. A suite of breakfast-rooms was opened; but her former influence could not be recovered.” The speculation failed; and at length she was confined in the Fleet Prison, where she died August 19, 1797.

In the literature of the day

Murphy, in his Epilogue to Zobeide, 1771, refers to her popularity:

Oh farewell!

For her each haunt that charms a modern belle!

Adieu, Almack’s! Cornelys! Masquerade!

Sweet Ranelagh! Vauxhall’s enchanting shade!

Combe, in his satire, The Diobalady, 1777, thus severely castigates the licentiousness of the amusements:

The ready ministers of hell’s commands, Obedient, fly and take their several stands

At Court,  Cornelys’, and the Coterie;

Where vice, more vicious by effrontery,

Fearless, unblushing, braves the eternal laws

Of God and man, to aid the devil’s cause.

Note: Teresa Cornelys was one of the mistresses of the famous lover, Casanova, to whom she bore a child.

casanova-tour

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova

 

Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse

Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

Carlton1

The frontage of Carlton House

Carlton House and the Regency

The Prince Regent’s residence at Carlton House is another place frequently mentioned in historical fiction that is no longer in existence. I had heard that it burned down, but Timbs reports the following:

Carlton House having grown dingy in its fittings, and its history prompting many disagreeable associations, the King projected the enlargement and eventually the rebuilding of Buckingham House; Carlton House was taken down in 1826; the columns of the portico have been transferred to the National Gallery. The exact site of this palace of a century is now the opening between the York Column and the foot of Regent Street.

Plan_of_Carlton_Palace_in_1821

Plan showing the main floor and the suite of reception rooms on the lower ground floor

 Origins

Carlton House, as a royal palace, existed for nearly a century, and was the scene of many important state events, as well as of much prodigality and bad taste. The house, which fronted St. Alban’s Street and St. James’s Park, was originally built by Henry Boyles, Baron Carlton, on a piece of ground leased to him by Queen Anne, in 1709, at 35l. a year; it is described as “parcel of the Royal Garden, near St. James’s Palace,” and “the wood-work and wilderness adjoining.” From Lord Carlton the house and grounds descended to his nephew, Lord Burlington, the architect: he bested it, in 1732, upon his mother, the Countess Dowager of Burlington, who, in the same year, transferred it to Frederick, Prince of Wales, father of George III. The House was a building of red brick, with wings, and was afterwards cased with stone by Sir Robert Taylor. In Lord Burlington’s time, the grounds, which ran westward as far as Marlborough House, were laid out by Kent, in imitation of Pope’s garden at Twickenham. There is a large and fine engraving of the grounds by Woollett; bowers, grottoes, and terminal busts abounding.

Under the Prince Regent (George IV)

When, in 1783, the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV, was allowed a separate establishment, Carlton House was assigned for his residence, and Holland, the architect, was called in, and added the chief features,—the Ionic screen and the Corinthian portico, fronting Pall Mall. [Horace] Walpole writes to the Countess of Ossor, in the autumn of 1785:

We went to see the Prince’s new palace in Pall Mall; and were charmed. It will be the most perfect in Europe. There is an august simplicity that astonished me. You cannot call it magnificent: it is the taste and propriety that strike. Every ornament is at a proper distance and not one too large, but all delicate and now, with more freedom and variety than Greek ornaments… As Gobert [French architect]… designed the decorations, I expected a more tawdry assemblage of fantastic vagaries than in Mrs. Cornelys’s masquerade-rooms. [Teresa Cornelys, operatic soprano, held many fashionable gatherings at Carlisle House, had many lovers, and bore a child of Casanova.]… There are three most spacious apartments, all looking on the lovely garden, a terrace, the state apartment, and an attic. The portico, vestibule, hall, and staircase will be superb, and, to my taste, full of perspectives; the jewel of all is a small music-room, that opens into a green recess and winding walk of the garden… I forgot to tell you how admirably all the carving, stucco, and ornaments are executed; but whence the money is to come I conceive not—all the tin mines of Cornwall would not pay a quarter. How sick one shall be after this chaste palace, of Mr. Adam’s [Robert Adam, popular 18th century architect] gingerbread and sippets of embroidery!

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The main staircase, from Pyne’s Royal Residences (1819)

Timbs’s later assessment was not so kind. He says that the conservatory, “imitated from Henry VII’s Chapel, was a failure,” the blue velvet draperies “heavy and dark”; and the “Gothic dining-room was poor.” He found the armory to be “the most curious collection of arms in the world, [filling] four rooms.”

Here was John Hamden’s sword, said to be the work of Cellini; and a golden throne of the King of Candy was backed with a sun of diamonds and precious stones. Here, too, were arms from all nations—caps, boots, spurs, turbans, shields, bows, dresses, models of horses, helmets, sabres, swords, daggers, canopies, palanquins, guns, coats of mail, and other costly presents from all parts of the world.

In the plate-room were some fine specimens of King Charles’s plate; other plate was disposed in the centre of the room, in columns of gold and silver plates, and dishes, and drawers filled with gold and silver knives, forks, spoons, &c.…

The palace was superbly fitted for the Prince’s marriage: 26,000l. Was voted for furnishing, 28,000l. For jewels and plate, and 27,000l for the expense of the marriage. Here was born the Princess Charlotte, January 16, 1796, and the baptism took place on February 11; here, also, the Princess was married, May 2, 1816.

The Fête of June 19, 1811

The most magnificent State event of the Regency was the event given at Carlton House on June 19, 1811, being then the only experiment ever made to give a supper to 2,000 of the nobility and gentry. Covers were laid for 400 in the palace, and for 1,600 in the pavilions and gardens. The fête was attended by Louis XVIII, and the French princes then in exile; and a vast assemblage of beauty, rank, and fashion. The saloon at the foot of the staircase represented a bower with a grotto, lined with a profusion of shrubs and flowers. The grand table extended the whole length of the conservatory, and across Carlton House to the length of 200 feet. Along the centre of the table, about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain, beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss and aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet. At the head of the table, above the fountain, sat His Royal Highness the Prince Regent on a plain mahogany chair with a feather back. The most particular friends of the Prince were arranged on each side. They were attended by sixty servitors; seven waited on the Prince, besides six of the King’s, and six of the Queen’s footmen, in their state liveries, with one man in a complete suit of ancient armour.

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Fencing Match between Chevalier de Saint-Georges and ‘La chevalière D’Eon’ on April 9, 1787 in Carlton House, painting by Charles Jean Robineau

Historical tidbit

Timbs mentions that the portico of Carlton House was the site of the “first public application of the newly-invented lighting by gas.”

Author’s Reflections

I’m thinking the fête might come in hand for a scene in my next story—as an example of the decadence and excess of the Prince Regent. What do you think?

 

Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse